Ausangate 4 day experience
We wake up at 5.30 am in Cusco. The sky is starting to get lighted by the sunrise. At 3,300m , you can feel the low oxygen, in the middle of mountains around you. Gear is set, put on some warm clothes for the cold and give a call to Manuel, our driver. Luckily, he is five minutes away. We load all the gear, food and water, and get under way to pick up the other travelers, guide and cook that are in cusco city.
Its 6.30 and we are on our way to Tinki, the closest town to Ausangate mountain. After an hour drive, we get to Urcos. The town is on the move, the skies are blue, sun is shining and we park next to a local lady offering quinua beverages and avocado sandwiches.
After getting a full stomach, we continue towards Tinki. At 9am, we arrive at our porters’ house. Five horses are set to be loaded up with all our gear, while another one is left without weight in case of emergencies. We then proceed to the local school, where its officially the start of the trek. We have passed all the last houses of the town, and a 3 hour hike awaits in direction to Ausangate mountain, looking massive from far away.
We cross one small hill, and see hundreds of alpaca grazing, all by themselves. They were not bothered by the amount of photos taken by us. We continue our slow but steady pace, trying to breath through the nose while we gradually move up the mountain.
Finally, after a bit more than 3 hours, we arrive to the first campsite, in Upis. To our delight, the hot springs are next to us. Everyone puts on their bathing suit, not minding the cold breeze, and we go in. The local community has built concrete reservoirs that act as pool, receiving hot water from the ground. 2 other girls from the US join us. It is just so relaxing! After an hour, and seeing how the sun was setting and brushing the Ausangate snow into a orangish color, we decide its time to get off, put on some warm clothes, and just appreciate this unique scenery.
At 6.30 pm, darkness is upon us, but every second we see more stars in the sky. We go into the dining tent, and have a delicious dinner consisting of a local soup, fresh trout, potatoes and tea. After a pleasant conversation were we all got to know each other, we come off the tent, to see the Milky way and millions of stars above us. It was just incredible. We just gaze for an hour, until deciding to go to each one´s tent to rest for the next day.
First night in the tent, at high altitude, is just as you would expect. Intermittent sleep, throughout the whole night. Luckily, our good sleeping bags made it easier. Breakfast is ready at 7am, everyone changes, and sit down to enjoy some omelets with coca tea. We then set each one´s day pack, receive our lunch box, and start hiking towards our first pass: Arapa at 4,800m.
We move up the mountain along a stream of water that is rushing down from the glaciers. After an hour´s walk, we deviate to the right. With such a big mountain, at such altitudes, you can now understand why it takes at least 4 days to loop it. The landscape changes completely, from the green wetlands, to a variety of mountains all containing different mineralogical compositions giving them each a unique color: from red clay, to earthy brown, to mustard yellow and greenish tones. We reach the pass, take some pictures, and continue our descent towards Pucacocha, the first big lake of the trek.
We can see it from above, its color is imposing. Once there, there is a deck where we sit down and have lunch. Semele and Luca, both siblings, decide to put on their bathing suits. The water is frigid cold, the wind is colder, and the mountain´s glaciers continue to drain its waters into the lake. Both go in, while we just admire their braveness.
After some rest, its time to move on. A big hike towards our second pass awaits. We pass another amazing lake Azulcocha at our left side, from above. A huge herd of alpacas are grazing and seem to be enjoying each other´s company. All of a sudden, Luca starts to feel dizzy, and his hands and feet feel swollen. Classic symptoms of altitude sickness. Our guide, Gonzalo, decides its better for him to ride the horse, as to avoid the physical exercise that will only worsen his condition, given the fact that we still have more than an hour uphill hike to the 4,800 meter pass. As we continue walking, Luca starts feeling better since he is recuperating on the horse. We get to the pass, but still decides to descend towards our campsite on the horse. After an hour, we get to Ausangatecocha, a beautiful lake, where our second campsite is located. There is a small hut, which has a cooking space and toilets. Our porters and cook place themselves, and after just 30 minutes, we have our tea time with popcorn and tequeños, a classic peruvian starter of fried breaded cheese stick dipped with avocado. Delicious!
We then decide to do a walk towards the lake. We hear small avalanches from the breaking glacier rushing down towards the lake. They sound massive and dangerous, but luckily for us, its just sound. As it gets darker, we get back to the campsite, where our cook is already waiting us for dinner.
After dinner, our porters are already turning on our bonfire; 2 hours of getting warmed by the fire and pleasant conversations, its time to go to our tents to rest for the next day, the most challenging part of the trek, ascending Palomani pass at 5200m.
We wake up for an early breakfast. Its omelets, bread, tea, coffee and pancakes. We pack up, get our lunch box, and start the uphill hike. A 3 hour hike awaits, until reaching to the highest point of the trek. Ausangate lake is on our left side, getting supplied by the melting waters of the glacier. We can still see small avalanches that sound as if the earth is roaring. One baby step at a time eventually take us to Palomani pass, at 5,200 meters.
The views are magnificent, from one side, the magnificent sceneries that form the rainbow mountain and vilcanota mountain range. After the protocolar photos, we descend into chilca valley, following the jampamayo river downstream.
We pass herds of alpacas and garmented llamas with their owners. Llamas have been a very important animal for andean cultures. Since Incan times, they were sacrificed in Inti Raymi (traditional religious ceremony in honor of the god Inti “Sun”) and used as cargo animals for product transportation. Nowadays, its still important for its wool, meat and manure used as a fertilizer.
We arrive to Chilca around noon. The sky is blue and the sun is directly upon us. We have lunch and rest on big rocks that look like natural beds. After a well deserved break, we restart the hike uphill towards the jampa. We first cross a huge wetland, trying not to get our feet wet. Then, we start hiking through herds of alpacas, in a green valley, where we see an imposing waterfall. We keep hiking for 2 hours, until reaching the Jampa campsite. We see huge peaks around us, and dark clouds approaching. The weather report forecasted that we would see some rain and snow throughout the day. However, it was sunny and pretty warm. But now, it seemed that it was catching up.
Everyone rested at their tents and after an hour, our cook called us for tea time. Popcorn, tequeños and a variety of teas were ready in the dining tent. We all gather around the table, enjoy the delicious starters and have a pleasant conversation. Dinner is then served, and after some table talk, we all go into our tents. Its our last night and the general consensus is that the trek has gone by very quickly. We are all having a great time. We turn off our headlights, and go to sleep.
Through the night, I could hear rain drops, that turned into heavier but lighter sounds. I thought to myself, that must be snow. I snuggled in my sleeping bag and kept sleeping. In the morning at around 6am, I opened my tent, and found everything around me painted white. It was just magical. It was still snowing, my tent was completely covered in white. The various colors we could see yesterday all turned to white. The snow brought some fog, so visibility was low. We had breakfast, packed our bags, and started our day hike.
It was approximately 2-3 hours uphill towards our last pass: Jampa, at 4800m. We had to walk slowly, watching every footstep to avoid burying our feet in melted snow. The sky was completed covered with clouds, and the snow turned lighter as we moved on. We could still see the great snow capped mountains around us, there was barely any wind and we saw for the first time a herd of vicunas crossing by.
After reaching the pass, we took some pictures appreciating the massiveness of the mountains around us. We then proceed to go downhill towards Pacchanta. We pass through beautiful lakes, of different colors and at different altitudes. Finally, after 2 hours, as the vegetation turned green, we could see the village. Hundreds of alpacas were grazing the huge wetlands. Finally, we arrived. Our private transportation is already waiting for us. We load up the van, and then proceed to a well deserved “spa” session in the hot springs.
The temperature of the water is unbeatable. Its just so relaxing after a intense day of hiking up and down. We all reminisce on our last 4 days, its spectacular sceneries, flora, fauna and local people we met on the way. It has been a dream trip. We had all types of climates, from sunny skies, warm middays, to cold and snow that packed in the ground. What we barely saw was other tourists, making it so unique compared to other treks in the region. Its a lifetime memory, and our group has made friendships that will last forever.
Finally, after an hour session at the “spa”, we change to our clothes, got in the van, and a 3 hour van ride awaits until reaching the city of Cusco.